The truth behind the puzzle in my waiting room

I redecorated and the truth behind the puzzle in the waiting room was to find a way to teach a variety of life skills to the people I serve.  I think Robin Williams summed it up nicely when he said “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone, it’s not. The worst thing is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.” There is something about suffering from an ailment that is internal only, that no one can readily see, that creates such a feeling of isolation and loneliness.

Well-intentioned but hurtful comments such as:

“It could be worse.”

“But you look great!”

“I could never tell something was wrong.”

“We keep our business to ourselves.”

“Strong people can take care of themselves.”

Tend to make a person feel isolated. Alone. Shameful. Most of the time when someone comes to see me to process the pain from the past, they have a hard time working with me on letting go of that “everyone else suffers worse so I should be over this” syndrome. Sometimes, the person in front of my is relieved and shocked to hear that they are not alone in the things they describe.

The puzzle, though. I would have to say that the real reason I put it in the waiting room on a big coffee table with no other explanations is for solidarity—to decrease loneliness. You may be wondering how a puzzle could do that by itself. Here’s the thing, though—we love puzzles. We love to figure things out and solve them, and puzzles are both a literal and metaphorical idea we use all the time.

People are working together to solve a problem for an outcome. None of them run into the other because of the design of my office, but one by one they each offer a contribution. When I first put it out there, I found a client rushing to try to make matches before our session (and remember, there was no sign, no explanation. It just appeared).

The other hidden agendas are that I’m modeling coping skills—distraction, in this case. Self-affirming puzzle solving (who doesn’t like it when they find a good match after searching?). But I’m also quietly teaching my clients patience, problem-solving, stopping to look at the big picture, and symptom-management, all without ever talking about it. Yes, they could be on their phones or reading the magazines displayed, but interestingly, when left to their own devices, they work on the puzzle.

To me, it is a great metaphor for therapeutic work: decreasing loneliness, working with others, having patience, and stopping to see the big picture.

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